Mayhem and Majesty, currently at 59E59 Theaters, was created by Jackie Dempsey and Steve O’Hearn with the Squonkers. It is a combination of sound, music, visuals and differentiated staging, using ladders and other props. The cast is Jackie Dempsey on piano, keys and accordion; Anna Elder on vocals; Kevin Kornicki on drums, zen drum and djembe; Steve O’Hearn on flute, wind synth, sax and manybell trumpet; and David Wallace on electric guitar.
The production numbers comprise an interesting compendium which is not always clear or understandable, but that is the point. The intention of the artists is for the audience not to receive each number as a separate piece, but to suspend judgment and receive the entire performance in its fullness. It is a novel way to enjoy a production and an interesting way to present a song cycle. I found it difficult not to search for meaning and attempt to put the visuals, music, sound and vocals together to create some philosophical treatise. But that is more my problem; it is not a function of the Squonkers to make complete sense in a logical world. In fact one of the intents of the performance is to get the audience to suspend the rational and accept the totality of what they see and hear, moving between right to left brain.
Though the result for me was at times confusing, the effect did indeed work. Moving from the “mayhem” portion to the “majesty” and back again did force one to let everything wash over the consciousness rather than mentally intrude. I enjoyed some of the numbers more than others. The more melodic pieces resonated and were stunning, indeed majestic. Of course, the contradiction was in the semi-“noise” portions whose jarring served as a counterpoint to the loveliness.
In its attempt at innovation, the production did succeed overall, offering an open-ended flashpoint where one could just float and not think, enjoy or not enjoy, be comfortable or uncomfortable, or find humor in some of the contradictions presented. In one aspect, the performance was less than interesting. I found some of the staging sophomoric and more of an attempt at innovation than true innovation. However, the finale made up for this.
Mayhem and Majesty is at 59E59 Theaters until December 29.